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Anticipatory adjustments

The concept of ‘reasonable adjustment’ is enshrined in the Special Educational Needs Disability Act (SENDA 2001). It requires ‘responsible bodies’, in this case learning providers, to ensure that students are not ‘substantially disadvantaged’ by virtue of disability and that learning materials are made available to them in a form they can access. The duty of ‘reasonable adjustment’ in SENDA is anticipatory, that is, ‘responsible bodies’ must make plans to accommodate special needs instead of simply trying to react on an ad hoc basis.

The following are the 10 major anticipatory steps which FE colleges should take in respect of provision for blind and visually impaired (VI) students, ranked in approximate descending order of importance:

  • Encourage a culture of corporate and individual responsibility for the meeting of special needs –see JISC Techdis Senior Manager Briefings 1 and 2.
  • Phase out analogue (hard copy, unmanipulable) material in favour of digital material – for replace paper handouts with digital versions on a learning platform / VLE. Where digital resources are created keep copies of original digital asset ingredients (text, audio, video etc) so they can be separately accessed if required.
  • Appoint appropriate human resources to implement SENDA in general and the items on this list in particular.
  • Appoint appropriate human resource to supervise the preparation and supply of special materials.
  • Appoint appropriate human resource with an understanding of data ‘equivalence’ and ‘accessibility’.
  • Encourage a culture of inter disciplinary co-operation to facilitate clear description (English, media studies) and a better understanding of form, composition and depiction (art).
  • Encourage a culture of multi modal digital production.
  • If such equipment is not required by the core staff and students of the College, sign an anticipatory lease agreement for state-of-the-art screen technology to be linked to PC/Apple computer systems.
  • Except where assessment rules this out, encourage a culture of collaborative learning.
  • Promote a culture of volunteer reading/interpretation.

Meeting special needs should not be the responsibility of a special unit or the unit which just happens to have a student with special needs; the culture of meeting the needs of all students should be corporate and the way those needs are met should be through the acceptance of personal responsibility; nonetheless, tutors need to be given guidance on what is reasonable for them to provide and when they should legitimately share their responsibilities. Good practice in providing accessible resources will benefit all learners and teaching staff need to be aware of the key pointers covered in the JISC Techdis Accessibility Essentials series.

As more material is stored and distributed digitally, items such as the photocopied hand-out should be phased out. There will still be some problems of accessibility with full-length books over which the College has no control but it must control what it can control; for example:

  • Such control must reach down to corporate digital house style. There are two inter-linked concepts; that:
  • As material is rendered in more complex formats, each rendering should be archived; this means that a document that is designed for PDF will have an archived Word source file
  • As material is rendered in more rigid formats, i.e. it is more difficult to amend, the most manipulable form should be archived; e.g. the PowerPoint is still available from which the Flash learning object was developed.
  • Data accessibility means the presentation of material in such a form that the user can decode its language and/or form; ‘equivalence’ means that the accessible material as near as possible conveys the learning objectives of the original format, for example a teacher describing the significance of a picture to a totally blind person may simply note the existence of the picture as a matter of courtesy and explain its meaning through a different narrative that the student will understand.
  • Meeting ‘Special Needs’ should not be a matter for individual people or units; it is the institution that must meet the needs and that might involve, as a matter of efficiency and co-operation, the use of specific skills within the institution that are particularly required by VIPs.
  • The benchmark for multi modal multimedia production is documentary television as opposed, say, to feature films where the audio track may be silent for long periods. The use of appropriate audio description (and sub titling for deaf people) should become institutionally embedded, particularly if it is anticipated that the material will have an extended 'shelf life'.
  • The culture of autonomous and competitive learning is one of the root causes of high resource use for accessibility, comprising teacher time and the production of ‘accessible’ materials. A major accessibility resource for a disabled student should be her peers.
  • Volunteer reading will eliminate a substantial use of resources for alternative format production. The VI beneficiary should be encouraged to understand how she may reciprocate.

Note that almost all the major requirements to meet the anticipatory duty and on-going needs are based on good practice and the nature of the institutional culture. Only the special personnel and a modest amount of special equipment (which might be used by the whole institution) involve any financial outlay and the benefits of good practice can impact far wider than disabled learners.

Learner self assessment and, if necessary, external assessment should be undertaken to establish accessibility needs. It should not be assumed that students possess ‘access technology’ or, that if they do, they can use it to a necessary level of competence. Many students will not have a single, ‘preferred’ accessibility medium; many will mix-and-match; some, for example, will use adjustable print/braille simultaneously with audio (just as most people use television as a multimedia output device).

Student requirements, particularly in respect of course books, should be determined at the point of acceptance and a prioritised strategy for provision agreed.

The ability to reproduce course material in accessible formats without copyright obstacles should be part of the College's procurement policy.

Providing text should be handled generically rather than through a single title policy, e.g. multiple sources on the Web may be an entirely appropriate adjustment rather than a single textbook in electronic format.

Further information and guidance